One of the biggest fads on college campuses this fall has nothing to do with skinny jeans or the cafeteria's latest foray into fusion cuisine, but rather with textbooks.
Across the country, students are flocking to rent books for everything from courses on nursing to corporate finance, instead of purchasing them, as a way to save money.
But about half of the nation's schools fail to offer textbook rentals, which can save students hundreds of dollars, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday. And the schools that do offer rentals only do so for a limited number of titles, he said.
Schumer is urging the National Association of College Stores, a major backer of the textbook rental model, to encourage its members to expand textbook rental programs.
"I believe that no student should be shut out from the potential savings of this program because of the school they happen to attend or the course of study they choose to pursue," he wrote in a letter to Brian Cartier, the association's CEO.
Nearly half of its 3,000 member stores in the U.S. and Canada have begun offering rental services, according to the Ohio-based NACS. That's up from about 300 in 2009.
A survey released Wednesday by Schumer's office showed that 16 of 38 schools surveyed in New York City and Long Island failed to offer any textbook rentals. Manhattan College in the Bronx and Hunter College in Manhattan were among those that did not.
Elio Distaola, a spokesman for Follet Higher Education Group, which manages the bookstore at Manhattan College, said the company expanded its textbook rentals from 30 stores in January 2010 to 780 this fall through its Rent-A-Text website.
He said the company hoped to expand to its remaining 20 stores as soon as possible but that there was some risk involved for the company because books are renting for less than it costs to put them on the shelves.
"Rental really leans on the multiple use of the book," he said, adding that the company moved 1 million rental units this semester so far.
Barnes & Noble, which operates the Hunter College bookstore, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. A manager at the store referred questions to the bookseller.
New York University, which has a deal to rent textbooks with Bookrenter.com, said demand for its programs has come from students.
"We went forward with a rental program because there was a lot of interest among students," said John Beckman, an NYU spokesman. "It saves them money if they simply want the book for only a semester."